1902 Encyclopedia > Ferdinand Freiligrath

Ferdinand Freiligrath
German poet
(1810-76)




FERDINAND FREILIGRATH (1810-1876), a popular German poet, was born June 17, 1810, at Detmold, where his father was a teacher in the Stadtschule. He was edu-cated at the gymnasium of his native town, and at the age of fifteen was apprenticed to an uncle who kept a grocer's shop in Soest. Freiligrath had no great liking for trade. He was an insatiable reader, especially of books of travel and adventure, and from his childhood a scribbler of verse. At Soest he devoted some hours daily to the study of English, French, and Italian, and towards the end of his five years' apprenticeship was writing verses for several small Westphalian papers, such as the Gunloda and Mindener Sonntagsblatt. Having spent other five years (1831-6) as clerk in a bank at Amsterdam, Freiligrath re-turned to Soest, published his translations of Victor Hugo's Odes and Twilight Songs (1836), and started, conjointly with his friends Ignaz Hub and A. Schnezler, a journal, entitled Rheinisches Odeon (1836-8). In 1837 he went to Barmen as bookkeeper in a mercantile house, about which time also his fugitive pieces, still appearing in Westphalian papers, among which were the Morgenblatt and Deutscher Musenalmanach, had the good fortune to be praised by the poet Chamisso. A year later appeared his first volume of Gedichte, which became immediately and widely popular. Finding himself at the age of twenty-eight one of the favourite poets of his day, Freiligrath now gave up his situation of bookkeeper in Barmen, and spent the next year at Unkel on the Rhine, where he wrote his Roland's Album (1840), and in connexion with Levin Schiicking compiled Das malerische und romantische Westfalen (1840-42). He married in 1841 Ida Melos, daughter of Professor Melos of Weimar, and removed first to St Goar, where, with his friends Simrock and Matzerath, he edited the Rheinisches Jahrbuch (1840-41), and in 1842 to Darmstadt, where he published, conjointly with Duller, a poem, Zum Besten des Kölner Doms, and endeavoured also to start a periodical, to be called Britannica: für Englisches Leben und Englische Literatur, for which Dickens and Bulwer had promised their assistance. This scheme, however, failed, and Freiligrath returned to St Goar, there to complete his Karl Immermann, Blätter der Erinnerung an ihn (1842). In the same year he received a pension of 300 thalers from King William IV. Up to this time, Freiligrath's poetry had borne no trace of the politician. Among the Gedichte, so popular in German households, were his Moos-thee, Die Auswanderer, Der Blumenrache, Prinz Eugen, Der Bilder-bibel, Löwenritt, and many others written before 1840, all purely imaginative in their character, and still, from a lite-rary point of view, unquestionably the poet's masterpieces. When, after his return to St Goar, Freiligrath was drawn irresistibly into the political controversies of the day, he still endeavoured to keep clear of party feeling, declaring that the poet stood " auf einer höheren Warte als auf den Zinnen der Partei." But he was soon obliged to vacate this position and descend among the politicians; and in 1844 he threw up his royal pension, published his Glaubensbekennt-nis», and finally joined the democratic party. From this time forward he boldly proclaimed the democratic cause in verse, till, as the author of Trotz-alledem (a translation of Burns's A Man's a Man for a' that), Jacta est Alea, Die Freiheit! Das Recht!, Hamlet, England an Deutschland, and other equally daring effusions, he was forced to seek safety in exile, and retired first to Belgium and then to Switzerland. There he prepared for press a volume of Englische Gedichte aus neuerer Zeit (1846), containing translations from Mrs Hemans, L. E. L., Southey, Tennyson, Longfellow, and others, and also a volume of political songs entitled Ca Ira ! The publication of this last led to his flight to England, and for the next two years he lived in London, as foreign correspondent to a mercantile house. In 1848 he was on the point of emigrating with his family to America, there to join Longfellow and other literary friends, when the Revolution broke out, and the amnesty of March 19 allowed him to return to Germany. He now took up his post at the head of the democratic party at Dusseldorf, but was shortly afterwards imprisoned on account of his poem Die Todten an die Lebenden. On being liberated by verdict of the jury, he removed to Co-logne, to assist in the management of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. During this year also he published his Februar-klange and Die Revolution. Zwischen den Garben, eine Nachlese alterer Gedichte, appeared in 1849, and Neue poli-tische und sociale Gedichte in 1850. Fresh impeachments drove Freiligrath again to London in 1851, and he once more returned for a livelihood to the prosaic existence of the desk and office stool, still, however, devoting his leisure hours to literature, and specially to those translations from the English poets which in Germany have earned him a position equal to Riickert's as a translator of English verse. In 1854 he published a selection of translations from English, Scotch, and Irish literature, entitled The Rose, Thistle, and Shamrock; also Dichtung und Dichter, eine Anthologie. His translation of Longfellow's Hiawatha appeared 1857. He also translated Cymbeline and the Winter's Tale for a German edition of Shakespeare, edited by Bodenstedt. In 1866 a national testimonial, which ultimately reached the sum of 60,000 thalers, was set on foot in Germany, for the purpose of providing a pension for the poet in his old age ; and when, two years later, a general amnesty was granted to political offenders, Freiligrath returned to his native country, and was received with public enthusiasm. He now settled in Stuttgart, where, at the beginning of the Franco-German war, he wrote some since popular songs, such as Hurrah Germaniaf and the Trómpete von Gravelotte. He removed to Cannstadt in 1875, and died there, March 18, 1876. An edition of his collected works was published at Stuttgart (6 vols. 1870, 2 vols. 1871, and since) and there is also a Tauchnitz edition, containing a selection of some of Freiligrath's best known poems, translated into English by various authors, and edited by his daughter Mrs Freili-grath Kroeker (1869 and 1871).

Powerful as Freiligrath's poetry is, and masterly as his diction and rhythm are admitted to be, he is yet wanting in the tenderness of a Chamisso, or the exquisite subtlety of a Heine. The principal charm of his poetry lies in its entire originality. He came, belonging to no school of versifiers, at a time when old tastes were being cast off, and novelty was restlessly desired, and he has been fitly christened a bahnbrechender Poet. He was original in style of thought and choice of subject, while in many of his poems, such as his Iceland Moss Tea, Skating Negro, Revenge of the Flowers, Lion's Ride, and many of his grim, revolutionary parables, there is even an element of the fantastic—the bizarre. And it was a part of this native originality of mind which made Freiligrath so eminently a cosmopolitan poet. He was no traveller, and spent the greater part of his days in a dusty counting house; yet, few as his sources of inspiration could have been,—he himself acknowledges the old Bilderbibel of his childhood as one, while others have traced them to the busy docks and strange cargoes of a seaport town,—his fancy was rarely contented with lingering among the scenery and legends at home, but branched rather into new paths, into the distant parts of the earth,—_ into the Weltferne. This love of the Weltferne, however, predominates omy in his earlier Gedichte, to which the intense patriotism of his later muse is a strange contrast. In England Freiligrath's political poetry is of secondary interest; for to the British intellect it is scarcely compre-hensible how such effusions—grim, outspoken, as they are— should be a sufficient cause for imprisonment, or an almost life-long exile; and as poems of occasion—although that occasion was a revolution—they rank lower with the literary critic than the purely imaginative poetry of his youth. But by most Germans Freiligrath is best remembered as the political poet; while among the countrymen of his own party, old political friends and fellow exiles, he has been called a poet-martyr, the " bard of freedom," and " inspired singer of the revolution." (F. M.)








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